Thursday, 3 March 2011

European football road trip

Alan Shearer, Beyonce and Lille

We like the cut of Jamie Cutteridge's jib here at European Football Weekends. So when he offered to write on his recent road trip to France and Spain; we ran the hoover over the red carpet and rolled it out for him....

All good stories begin with a hope, a dream, a vision. This one begins with me sitting up one morning and deciding that I wanted, nay, needed to see Lionel Messi do his thing at the Nou Camp. The desire was one purely born out of lust and desire and hence a plan was made and tickets bought for a weekend in Barcelona to see the side play Bilbao in late February with the plan to sort out flights and accommodation nearer the time.

Simple enough but too simple some would say. Soon after, the Champions League draw was made and threw Lyon and Real Madrid together, putting the Lyon leg a few days after our trip to Barcelona. Consulting a map we saw that this wasn't a million miles away from being off-route and hence plans of a European road trip were formed with a call put out on twitter for those that were keen. Plans to swing by Lille and Zaragoza for games were thrown in as well as a day in Paris, and we were set to go, joined my friends of mine Ben and Andy and friends of the internet Tom Goulding and Chris ‘The Equaliser’ Mann, Europe was ours to conquer in a way not seen since the 1940s.

Of course all great journeys need a vehicle worthy of such a voyage, and far from the expected plane, ours became an old Honda estate nicknamed Beyonce (It has a big boot(y) and can get ‘junk in the trunk) but also known as Emile (Big, slow, not as good as it was 10 years ago but still vaguely useful).

  I don't think we were ready for this Jelly

I could fill many a piece with anecdotes, hilarious comments and japes that we got ourselves into, but in reality, they would never be as amusing in print and it would just be a little bit smug wouldn’t it. Instead, here are some highlights, a taste of our trip, the good, the bad and Alan Shearer’s autobiography.

  The man loves scoring goals

And Shearer’s autobiography seems the perfect place to start. Picked up at Dover Ferry terminal on tape (Weirdly, the only cassette they were selling) for the bargain price of £8.99 is served as the perfect soundtrack for our drive to Paris on glorious French afternoon. Highlights include Shearer’s puzzle at a 20-word ‘brainteaser’ (his word) as a child about why he wanted to meet Kevin Keegan, his meetings with Alex Ferguson to discuss a transfer under the guise of a Bryan Adam’s concert, the wonderful hostess that is David Platt’s mother-in-law and the one point of genuine interest that Shearer was offered the player-manager’s job at Blackburn in an effort from Jack Walker to keep to him at the club.

Carried upon the wings of Alan (who for your information ‘just loves scoring goals’) we arrived in Paris before retracing our steps back up north to Lille for that evening’s Europa league fixture between the hosts and PSV. An interesting fact about Lille is that they are currently ‘between stadiums.’ The old Stade Metropole is currently a pile of rubble, whilst the new one, baring the same name, is currently under construction. In the meantime Lille occupy another stadium which, in their infinite wisdom, they have given the same name to this interim ground, but surely there would be enough information on the interweb to avoid confusion?

No. No there is not. So after a two-hour drive to Lille we arrived at the Stade Metropole, sure we were 40 minutes before kickoff, but the area seemed quiet and the ground was a pile of bricks, being men full of nous we immediately realised that this would not be the scene of a game that evening, and so panicked and drove around Lille for a while searching for any sign of life, or floodlights. Eventually the ground was discovered just before the game was kicked off, but another interesting fact about Lille is that all car parks around the ground require a match ticket for entry. Once we eventually dumped the car nearby our fate was sealed by another fact, that UEFA regulations prevents tickets being sold after kickoff. Yes, our trip to Lille was wasted, a desperate search for touts resulted in two tickets, but solidarity between the five us prevented us taking them and despite seeing one goal through a gap in the fence we departed Lille having failed to take in our first game of football. Not even a re-listen of Alan Shearer could lighten our mood on the way back to Paris (Yes map fans, a silly route), it was easy for Alan, all that mattered to him was scoring goals, we couldn’t even make it around France....

Here's what I think of your world famous art gallery

Day 2 arrived and was the only day of our trip with no sport planned, and hence if you’re reading this site you probably won’t care about our time in Paris, however, as you may expect, football reared its beautiful head. The day was spent perusing the sights of France’s capital (or in the case of Jamie flicking Vs at the famous bits “Showing them what I thought of it”) and we decided to round off the day by hiring bikes and cycling up the Champs Elysees Tour De France style (an unnamed member of our party shouted that they were a ‘more virile Lance Armstrong, and by unnamed, I mean me), round l’arc de Triomphe and down the Eiffel Tower. Two of us decided to catch the metro to the tower, avoiding the bikes, and so when we reconvened under the tower we were delighted to find they had bought a football. It was kicked around a little bit before 5 French lads came over and challenged us to a game, England/France style, an offer too good to refuse.

Game 1- England 1-0 France

A perfect setting under the Eiffel Tower for this game as the touring England side took on the home team. The visitors  stayed compact early, putting men behind the ball and sticking rigidly to their formation in a way that would have Sven purring. Les Blues tested the keeper early on but eventually the ball broke to Cutteridge (1 international cap - 1 goal) who slotted the ball away with aplomb to give England the lead. England then defended their lead not offering the French a sniff of goal, until the game was halted by a Frenchman with a gun (I should note he was part of the police) giving the English a famous victory on foreign soil. 

For Queen and country

The success was celebrated with a trip up the tower followed by beer, snails and steak in the heart of Paris before the overnight trip to Barcelona began.

Spain came into view as we drove through the mountains with the sun coming up on a glorious morning, enough to banish any remnant of Lille-based depression. A long drive fuelled by shifts at wheel, uncomfortable drives and energy drinks gave way to windows down and summer music on the stereo and within a blink of the eye we were in Barcelona, outside the Nou Camp picking up our tickets for the next day. After a quick look inside the gift shop (complete with Jamie showing his vintage Villa shirt with pride) fatigue set in. Rather than stay in the centre we made for the outskirts of town and our hillside hostel, knackered after a long drive and knowing that our first game of the trip was that evening.

  Here's what I think of your tika-taka
 Game 2 - Real Zaragoza 0-1 Atletico Madrid

Living in England it is sometimes easy to forget that other countries are bigger than our own, and so when looking at a map of Spain, Zaragoza does not look too far from Barcelona, close enough for a quick nip across country for an evening of football, in reality, it is a long 3 hour drive, but for football? Well worth it. Myself, Tom and Chris made our way through the Spanish countryside whilst Ben and Andy headed for the centre of Barcelona for an authentic Spanish evening spent in the, erm, Hard Rock Cafe.

A lovely bit of Spanish glamour

After seeing in the day in the car as the sun rose driving South, as the sun set we were heading West with a less picturesque view as the rain fell. We arrived in Zaragoza and made our way to La Romareda where (Thanks to Danny and this site) our press passes were waiting. Clearly the fact we were English was enough as no names or ID was asked for and we were shown to our own press box (some seats behind a bench) complete with passes and teamsheets which was all well and good until we realised that we had no pen, nor paper to at least create a pretence of being ‘press,’ and so a Tom headed back to the car in search of anything to make us appear legit. With the wi-fi code secured (relief for our mounting 3g bill on our phones) we were ready for kickoff between two teams having less than stellar seasons. Madrid lay in mid-table despite having one of the most talented front partnerships in world football of Diego Forlan and Kun Aguero whilst Zaragoza were situated perilously on the edge of the relegation zone.

Actual match action

The first half was lively and played at a really high tempo, Zaragoza controlled a lot of possession with the midfield pair of Gabi and Ponzio impressing whilst Madrid looked more threatening despite an odd long ball tactic towards such a skilful strike due. The one clear cut chance fell to Aguero but he couldn’t quite find enough space to squeeze it past the keeper and so at halftime it was scoreless. Clearly the best two players on the pitch were Forlan and Kun and the big question in the second half was whether Madrid could get them the ball enough to win the game.

 Food and drink was needed, however as I went to order I suddenly realised quite how limited my grasp of the local language was meaning I inadvertently ended up with 2 ham sandwiches and 2 cokes, I have no idea what I wanted, but it was not that.

Fully fed and watered we were ready for the second half as were Zaragoza as they pushed straight from the off, somehow the ball didn’t go in following a goal mouth scramble and Madrid went straight up the other end, Forlan feeding the ball to Aguero who beat his man (the aforementioned Ponzio) and belting on into the far corner from a tight angle. It was just about deserved, and came from a touch of class that the hosts lacked.
The rest of the game comprised of heaps of pressure from Zaragoza but very little to show from it until the last few minutes where they managed to hit the bar twice, from subs Uche and Bertolo, by far Los Blanquillos most exciting players. Nay it was not enough and Madrid saw out a win that they hoped would shoot them upwards whilst Zara were forced to face downwards. A fine evening’s football and due to ridiculous kickoff times in Spain a long drive back to Barcelona after a midnight finish that was entirely uneventful aside from Chris almost falling asleep at the wheel. Sleep was welcome, with more football to come over the coming days, with 3 of the planets greatest teams to see. Kerouac may have driven more, but he never came across Leo Messi on his travels and that smug satisfaction saw us cosy in our beds.

 In Part 2, which is coming soon, Mr Goulding takes us through two games featuring players from the adverts. 

Follow Jamie Cutteridge on Twitter. 

- Feel free to comment below - 


Jamie Cotton said...

Quality so far, looking forward to Part 2!

Danny Last said...

Thanks Mr Cotton. Part 2 will be with you on Saturday, penned by the fair hand of Mr Goulding.

Rocco said...

I can't decide which bit is my favourite, many to choose from.

Jamie flicking the V's at the Barcelona shirts..

or this:

"Food and drink was needed, however as I went to order I suddenly realised quite how limited my grasp of the local language was meaning I inadvertently ended up with 2 ham sandwiches and 2 cokes, I have no idea what I wanted, but it was not that."

Wonderful stuff. Good night!